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Fallin, Cole discuss infrastructure funding

Lawton_More than half of Oklahoma's annual transportation budget comes from the Federal Government, and this year Congress is set to re-authorize a six-year appropriations bill which will divide federal money among the states.  However, the Federal Highway Trust Fund is expected to be empty before summer.  Oklahoma's Fourth District Congressman Tom Cole (R), and Fifth District Congresswoman Mary Fallin (R) attended a panel discussion on Tuesday in Lawton to talk about potential solutions to the problem.

Part of the price per gallon of fuel we purchase at the pump includes state and federal taxes.  The funding is down because of last year's sky-high gasoline prices, and that means the amount of gas tax funding fell.  With the high price of gas, folks didn't drive as much, so the amount of gas tax money decreased.  Federal gas taxes feed the federal highway fund, tax money earmarked for the highway fund dropped when the number of gallons of fuel sold dropped.

Cole proposes raising the gas tax as a possible solution.  He says Oklahomans have been unwilling to invest in the state, and this will take many years to overcome.  "It's gonna take sustained effort over a lot of years to catch up on our unwillingness to invest in transportation," he said.  Fallin says we need a better strategy of spending the money rather than adding new taxes, and that watching traffic patterns may be a good idea.  "I think we need an overall strategy of where we want to go with Oklahoma - watch the trends and demographics, and prioritize our spending," she said.

Cole says Oklahoma has diverted money that was intended for roads and bridges into other areas, and that also may be a problem.  "The gas tax in Kansas is higher than it is in Oklahoma," he said.  "We've diverted a lot of transportation money into other areas.  We've chosen to fund other parts of the government with that."

Fallin says she intends to use her position as a member of the House Transportation Committee to ensure Oklahoma is not left out.  "I'm going to make sure Oklahoma gets its fair share of money back to our state," she said. 

Fallin and Cole both voted against the newest stimulus bill.  They said that Oklahoma will get approximately $400 million in highway funding from the bill.  President Obama's newest website - www.recovery.gov - is tracking how the stimulus will be spent also.  It estimates creation of more than 44,000 additional jobs in the state.

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